Signed, Sealed, Delivered - Episode 4

Della Reese

Cora Brandt

The legendary Della Reese is a multiple Grammy®, Emmy®, Golden Globe® nominee and seven-time NAACP Image® award winning actress and singer whose career spans over 60 years.  She is also an ordained minister in Los Angeles.

Reese started her illustrious career in the church and on the radio at six years old and in her teens went on to build a solid audience in her hometown of Detroit.  A highlight of her early years was her travels with iconic gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, when she learned the art of communicating with song.  After developing her signature style, a unique musical blend of jazz, blues and gospel, Reese went to New York City to play in the big leagues.  Her move to the Big Apple landed her a gig as a vocalist with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra and a recording contract with Jubilee records.  Out of her affiliation with Jubilee came Reese’s first big recording hit, “And That Reminds Me”, and she was soon voted “Most Promising Singer” by Billboard, Cashbox, Variety, Disc Jockeys of America, and Jukebox Operators Association.

A subsequent recording contract with RCA yielded Reese her biggest hit, “Don’t You Know,” along with her first Grammy® award.  Riding on a wave of accolades, she parlayed her success to a nine-year run as a headlining singer in Las Vegas.  Most recently, she has appeared on stage in her one woman show, “My Life in Song.”

In the late 1950s and early 1960’s, Reese launched a successful television career, appearing on all the hit variety shows of the era including “The Perry Como Show,” “ The Jackie Gleason Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.”  After appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show nineteen times in one year, Reese caught the eye of Johnny Carson.  She went on to appear on the Tonight Show numerous times and became the first woman to host.   In the late 1960s, Reese solidified her place in the talk show arena with her own syndicated daytime variety show, “Della,” making her the very first African American woman to host her own show.

The apex of Reese’s television career was the nine years that she co-starred in Martha Williamson’s hit series “Touched by an Angel” as Tess, the chief angel with a mission to help troubled people find redemption.  The show aired on CBS from 1994 to 2003 and earned Reese seven NAACP Image® awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series as well as several nominations for Emmy®, SAG® and Golden Globe® awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.   Along with a wave of critical acclaim, Reese’s portrayal of the tough but tender Tess has left an indelible mark on the hearts of millions of viewers across America. During the same era, Reese and her husband Franklin Lett made several celebrated movies for CBS, titled “The Secret Path,” “Anya’s Bell” and “The Moving of Sophia Myles.”   A tribute to its success, the beloved “Touched by an Angel” series is still running in syndication two decades after its debut.

Reese’s  most recent forays into television include turns in the crime drama “Detroit 1-8-7” and the ABC pilot “Hallelujah.”  She has also appeared in several made-for-television movies including “Dear Secret Santa,” “Miracle at Gate 213” and “Christmas Angel.”

Moving from the small screen to the larger one, Reese gave her most memorable performance in the 1989 comedy-drama “Harlem Nights”. Her work in the popular Eddie Murphy vehicle has resonated with a wide audience, spanning generations from old to young.  Most recently, Reese has also recently appeared in the spiritual-themed dramas “Me Again” and “Meant to Be.”  Reese has returned to her roots in the church, where she is founder and minister of Understanding Principals for Better Living Church in Los Angeles.  She resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Franklin Lett.

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